City, Howard, Frederick top school fund list

$99 million provided in final phase of construction budget

`Important commitment'

Emphasis is placed on renovation and expansion of facilities

May 08, 2001|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Baltimore City and fast-growing Howard and Frederick counties emerged yesterday as big winners in next year's $295 million school construction budget as Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced the final $99 million worth of projects.

The money brings total state spending on school construction since Glendening took office to nearly $1.5 billion - putting him within easy striking distance of the $1.6 billion goal he set early in his administration. "We're going to absolutely shatter that goal," the governor said.

The recommendations go to the Board of Public Works tomorrow, but approval is considered a formality.

The budget continues the governor's emphasis on funding renovations or expansions of existing schools. Only 21 percent of the money went to new construction projects.

Glendening said targeting the money to existing neighborhoods rather than "out there somewhere" was a facet of his Smart Growth initiative. By putting money into older communities, he said, the state can diminish the pressures on young couples with children to move to the outer suburbs.

The governor said that almost all the new construction money also was channeled into Smart Growth-designated areas.

Baltimore led the state with $46.6 million in construction aid - $25.7 million of it announced yesterday. House Appropriations Committee Howard P. Rawlings said it was the second straight year the city had hit the jackpot.

"Two years in a row, that's a really important commitment," the Baltimore Democrat said.

Howard County was second in the Baltimore metropolitan area with a record $25 million, $8.3 million of it new.

Anne Arundel County also fared well as $5.3 million in new projects, including $4.2 million for an addition to North County High, brought its total to $20.7 million.

Baltimore County received a relatively modest $18.7 million - less than half last year's $39.7 million - but that was largely because this year's request was modest.

The county received funding for two big-ticket requests in the $11.7 million announced yesterday - $7.8 million for New Town High School and $3.4 million for an addition to Woodlawn High School.

The announced figures brought benefits to several of the state's fastest-growing jurisdictions, including Howard.

Carroll County received $8.3 million, one of its largest allocations ever.

Harford County received an additional $1.6 million for a new Aberdeen High School, bringing its total for the year to $8.4 million.

"This bodes well for our county," said Harford County Executive James M. Harkins. "Tearing down the old high school and building a new one proved less costly than a patchwork approach. What we asked the state Board of Public Works for in school construction funding, we got."

The biggest winner for its size was Frederick County, which received $25.7 million, including $2.8 million in newly announced projects.

State school Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick said the spending in the growing counties was justified. "Frederick had such an accelerating population," she said. "It's just extremely, extremely challenging. In Howard, we also have that level of growth."

State school construction chief Yale Stenzler said Baltimore County asked for less this year because it has a backlog of projects in the pipeline. Stenzler said county officials have been slow to forward contract information to the state, which must approve the contracts before the money can be released.

He said part of the problem may be that Houston-based 3/D International, the company hired to oversee the county's school renovation program, has been slow to learn Maryland procedures.

"There is a learning curve, and then you want to be on task," said Stenzler. "It is taking longer than I would have thought for them to get over the curve."

The majority of the state's school construction money is allocated by the Interagency Committee on School Construction. The portion announced yesterday was determined by the governor in consultation with the agency.

This money announced yesterday is the focus of an annual event, commonly called the "Begathon," in which school administrators, local officials and lawmakers go before the Board of Public Works to plead for their pet projects. Political influence can play a role in the amount of money received.

Grasmick, whose relationship with the governor has not always been cordial, said she approved of the decisions.

"It was really guided by the quality of the submissions," she said.

Sun staff writer Lynn Anderson contributed to this article.

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